Sunday, November 28, 2004

Of creation, evolution, and monks arguing over angels doing the cha-cha

My old friend Mike Quijano, a contemporary at the Ateneo Law, once chided me for theologizing on air. And for a long time, I have refrained from making comments on theology, because it is not "my battlegound." But Sassy Lawyer has enlivened my interests on this field with a discussion on the history of man. And in spite of the risk of getting berated by Mike Q., straight from Mt. Fiji where he is based, I will indulge a bit to find out if I still have my bearings.

On the Creation-Evolution Debate

Did man get here by evolution or by creation?

If this question were asked in a courtroom, my instincts will immediately get me at my feet:

Objection, the question is misleading. It falsely assumes that the theory of creation makes the theory of evolution impossible, in the same manner, that it falsely assumes that the theory of evolution makes the theory of creation impossible.

Creation is not an event of the past. It is unfolding at this very moment in space and time. Thus, if we assume that evolution is true, it is consistent with the theory of creation, because creation posits that God created us, and is continuing to create us, just as evolution may have happened, and is continuing to happen.

Fr. Roche, S.J. my theology professor, once asked our class, when did God create the world? One classmate said, “Father, ... in the beginning.” Then Fr. Roche said,"Are you saying that God is not creating you now?”

Then he got a notebook and said, “Class, do you understand? If God decides not to create this notebook any more at this very moment, this notebook is not going to drop to the floor. This notebook is going to vanish.”

In other words, it’s not as if God created man in the beginning, and left him alone on his own. Rather, it is a creation that is happening at this very moment. It is the sustenance that has allowed us to exist since the beginning of time, until this very moment, perhaps even until tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and so on

Micketymoc comments, "according to biochemist Peter Atkins, the given physical conditions of the universe allow for an infinitely lazy Creator - a God with absolutely nothing to do! The natural processes of the cosmos take care of making the stars, the plants, and us."

My take, if God were lazy, Mr. Atkins, would not exist.

Thus, creation and evolution are not diametrically opposed concepts. Both could be true. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's Phenomemon of Man attempted to reconcile the two. I would leave this debate on this point, and proceed to be what is the heart of the matter: Whether true knowledge springs from faith, science, or both.

What's wrong with faith?

I can remember only three significant philosphical attempts to arrive at a logical proof of God.

1. St. Anselm said "God is something that which nothing greater can be thought." If this were so, then God must exist, because if God existed only in thought, then you could think of something greater than God--namely, God existing in reality, not just in thought. But you can't think of anything greater than God. So God can't exist only in thought, but must exist in reality, too. It takes a while to sink in. But check out this site for further explanation.

2. St Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica offers five proofs of God

A. The Prime Mover Argument

The argument states that all things have a prime mover who we understand to be God.

"...Whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.?

B. The Efficient Cause Argument

The argument states that God is the efficient cause which gave effect to our existence.

"In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God."

C. The Ex-contingencia Argument

Here St. Thomas goes on a reductio an aburdum argument, as he argues if nothing existed before, then nothing would have ever existed at all. Thus, something must have existed by itself to make other's existence not just possible but a reality, and that something must be God.

"We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence--which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God."

The fourth and fifth, I cannot understand. Look it up yourself here.

3. Pascal's Wager

The last one is not a proof but rather an encouragement for us to believe that there is a God. For if God doesn't exist, we lose nothing if you believe or not. But if God does exist, and you believe, then you gain all. But if you don't, then you lose all. More here.

Given that humanity is finite, as is human perception, the scientific and logical inquiry towards finding the infinite God appears to be doomed from the start. But the three propositions above are the best that humanity can come up with. I would say, they are not bad at all.

Ultimately, enlightenment comes with faith. If faith becomes the jump off point from which all inquiry about God begins, then everything appears to fall into place. I would not pretend that faith is error-free. What with all those people they executed for believing that the world is round? I would say, however, that faith seeks understanding, and with understanding comes knowledge and wisdom.

Faith as a method of knowing appears to be belittled by most thinkers. Indeed, it is not the method by which we can determine whether one plus one equals two or whather the sun is the center of the solar system. It is, however, the method by which we can know the answer to the questions that ultimately matter: What is happiness? What is death? What is life? After all, these questions have answers that no other mode of knowing can find.

What's right with science?

Can we say that the scientific method can lead us to the truth? The scientific method is not exactly bug-free, as it were.
Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"
argues that science does not evolve gradually toward truth, but instead undergoes periodic revolutions which he calls "paradigm shifts." And through out the history of science, we find our scientists hopping from one paradigm to another, never quite getting “it” until a new paradigm comes a long. This is the reason why Newton’s Laws of Physics are completely incompatible with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. And you can bet, one day, our scientists will be ready to say that Einstein is out of fashion — just like Newton after Einstein posited his famous e=mc2 equation. The raging debate within the scientific community between proponents of quantum physics on one hand and believers of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, on the other, is a demonstration that that day is about to come.

Indeed, the scientific method has not brought us to the point where we can truly claim that the scientific theories of the day are standing on firm ground. The fact that Newton’s Law of Physics stands inconsistent with the Theory of Relativity in the same manner that the Theory of Relativity is incompatible with quantum physics, makes me wonder: Will science ever give us the answer once and for all?

I am not saying that science is useless. The advances in technology that we are enjoying today are all products of good scientific work. But that begs the question: Can science lead us to the truth? Can we break out of our paradigms and find being?

Well, our understanding of paradigms is a good start -- but what if it is in itself a paradigm? Who can possibly tell?

Which way is better?

Micketymoc asks, "How does “faith” approach the truth in any way that’s significantly different from monks arguing on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

To which I answer with the same question, "How does “the scientific method” approach the truth in any way that’s significantly different from monks arguing on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

Micketymoc, answers my question, "The difference between monks arguing over angels doing the cha-cha, and scientists working to understand natural processes is, scientists get results!"

What results? Ptolemy's sun theory? Newton's out of style Laws of Physics? Einstein's soon to be discarded Theory of Relativity?

Sassy Lawyer inquires, "So, are we saying that truth is a matter of faith?

I am glad she asked that question, because now we are brought to the ultimate inquiry: What is the truth about death? Corrolarily, what is the truth about life? I am willing to let go of all scientific knowledge (if there be any) and technological advancements of this world if someone could give me a certain answer on the truth about death. For ultimately, man’s mortality makes all things seem but trivial, and I believe that at some point in any person’s life, he/she would find no knowledge more important than the truth about death. Where could man turn to? Science? Logic?

And to go back to Micketymoc's question comparing the monks with the scientists, the difference is this: the monks will ask only questions that ultimately matter. While scientists study what happens when an apple hits your head, monks inquire about what happens when you die. And after scientists have created their towers in the sky, monks declare, all things must pass. "What profits a man...?"

Well, that leads me to the “R” word.

The parting shot

Micketymoc asks, "Perhaps you see the goals of science differently from those who actually pursue science themselves.

The whole goal of science is understanding - but it’s a goal that will never end. Because humanity cannot claim absolute knowledge - the best we can do is to asymptotically approach it, but never attain it."

And I have exactly the same thoughts about faith -- the whole goal of faith is understanding, a goal that may never end. And as stated earlier, given that humanity is finite, as is human perception, the scientific and logical inquiry towards finding the infinite God appears to be doomed from the start. And here is where faith scores the winning points:

Faith is open to the possibility of the divine revelation of the absolute truth. Faith prays for the absolute truth. And with God's grace, some people have been able to see the absolute truth.

So I don’t belittle those monks arguing over angels doing the cha-cha. For indeed, they may have the answer once and for all.

(second revised post)
Thanks to Sassy Lawyer and Micketymoc.


micketymoc said...

no problem at all! :-) have commented on your latest comments on "history of man" post; will have my own post on my blog when I get the time.

Anonymous said...

In my mind, the matter of faith is a thing that could not be approach entirely on empirical basis. We must see it in an entirely different perspective and using our intuitions as a weapon against doubt.

In the legal world, there is such thing as circumstantial evidence, and it is thru this means of knowing that i have my own theory on the existence of God. it is foolish to ask for material evidences. it would perhaps blow our mind to know, like a "burning bush infront of us". You know my friend, the theory on evolution can be reconciled with the "theory of creation" because the latter is merely metaphorical, with its ribbones and women coming from.

We must see faith more from our hearts. What is our consciousness then but the product of our brain and our brain is just made up by molecules that is found almost anywhere. it is the soul that does not die although our body passes away some time.

We learn from philosophy and science but more so, if we learn it by seeing the genuineness of our hearts.

This is my "Architect Theory" or

sincerely yours,

Josef the Visionary

bayibhyap said...

if creation is not a past event and it is happening now, would you equate creation with evolution?

marvin said...

Good question Bayibhyap, I frankly don't have an answer. While I'm saying that the two do not cancel each other out, I am not prepared to say that evolution is actually happening. I guess it is. But really conceptually, the ongoing creation is not necessarily equal to evolution.

bayibhyap said...

"ongoing creation" is not evolution. creation is still an ongoing and continuous process? it is not done yet, after centuries?

"the whole goal of science is understanding". through science, can i understand the difference between creation (does science throw any light on creation?) and evolution?

i seem to find more questions than answers and perhaps this explains the need for a leap in faith that will bring one's religious conviction a level above scientific "truth".

marvin said...

Creation is on going after centuries -- hey, that's the reason we're still around.

On true knowledge, let's take it from Plato's Apology where he declares that the only true knowledge is the knowledge that we do not know.

On the leap of faith, that is exactly the point I'm driving at.